Microaggressions Essay Marcus is one of few visible racial ethnic minorities at his college. Not one of the faculty is a person of colour…Deborah is a successful executive who has been overlooked for promotion for the third time…Richard and Luke receive stares and remarks from strangers when they walk together hand-in-hand. These scenarios are examples of microaggressions – the verbal, behavioural or environmental indignities that people of colour, women and LGBTs must navigate on a daily basis. This paper will explore the concept of microaggressions and discuss the consequences of this phenomenon for both victims and perpetrators.
Through the close examination of a daytime television drama, the subtle and insidious nature of microaggressions will be revealed. As the scenarios above illustrate, microaggressions are less overt than traditionally defined racism, sexism, or heterosexism. Rather, they are everyday exchanges and experiences that communicate hostile or demeaning messages towards people of colour, women, LGBTs or other marginalized groups. Pierce (1970) was first to define microaggressions as “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put-downs’” (as cited in Sue, 2010, p. 24).
It is nearly impossible to avoid inheriting at least some of the racial, gender, and sexual-orientation biases that are inevitable within a society that privileges Whites, men and heterosexuals. Sue (2010) explains that racism exists on a continuum of conscious awareness. While biases can be displayed overtly through conscious and deliberate acts of discrimination, bias is more likely to occur in the form of unconscious, unintentional, and subtle discriminatory behaviours. Sue (2010) argues that this ambiguity makes microaggressions more harmful to the well-being and self-esteem of victims than overt discrimination.
Victims must continually question, react to and interpret the meaning of these experiences on a daily basis (Sue, 2010). Furthermore, the invisible nature of microaggressions prevents perpetrators from recognizing their role in the perpetuation of social inequalities. The long-running daytime television drama, Bold and the Beautiful provides a unique opportunity to critically reflect on the microaggressions that occur in society. Although soap operas are considered a far reach from reality, Bold and the Beautiful attempts to demonstrate diversity by including marginalized groups within its storylines.
Currently, there are five African American main characters; women are frequently portrayed in powerful roles; and recently a Lesbian character was introduced for the first time ever on daytime television. Despite these seemingly noble attempts at tolerance, the show blatantly avoids the real issues and prejudices facing the marginalized groups that these characters represent. Rather, characters are neatly assimilated into the dominate culture of the show. Ultimately, as Sue (2010) explains, this microaggression denies the experiences of people of colour, women and LGBTs, thereby denying that inequities exist in the real world.
An interesting example of this microaggression is the similar story arcs of the African American characters. Each of these characters were introduced with similar stereotypical backgrounds including a life of poverty, homelessness, crime or incarceration. Within a few episodes the characters began to emulate their White counterparts in appearance, dress, manners, speech, beliefs and values. This presents multiple and complex hidden messages to viewers. First, the suggestion that all African Americans come from backgrounds of poverty or crime is considered a microinsult that demeans the racial identity of African American viewers (Sue, 2010).
This assumed universality of the Black experience and assumption of criminality has been found to be especially offensive for African Americans (Sue, 2010). Second, as the characters become more ‘white’, viewers receive the message that African Americans should reject their own culture and strive for the status of whiteness. This suggests that White cultural values, appearance and communication styles are superior. Third, presenting Black and White characters in the same way may be a well-intentioned effort of the producers to appear ‘colour blind’.
However, Apfelbaum, Sommers, & Norton (2008) suggest that ‘colour blindness’ is nothing more than a “defensive maneuver not to appear racist” (as cited in Sue, 2010, p. 38). By not acknowledging differences, the show denies the racial reality of African Americans. Sue (2010) describes this as a microinvalidation whereby “the power to impose reality upon marginalized groups represents the ultimate form of oppression” (p. 37). Another microaggression theme that Bold and the Beautiful demonstrates is its unwillingness to portray intimacies between interracial couples and same-sex couples in the same way as White, heterosexual couples.
Although the show has experimented on many occasions with interracial relationships and has now introduced a same-sex relationship, viewers rarely see any form of physical intimacy between these couples. This is particularly true for the same-sex couple where verbal intimacies are also avoided. The message to viewers is an assumption that such non-traditional relationships are abnormal, deviant and even pathological since they stray too much from the ideal of dominant society.
Sue (2010) describes this as a microinsult that presents a subtle snub intended to demean the identity of these groups. Like many daytime dramas, a key criticism of Bold and the Beautiful is that it does not represent reality. By exploring the existence of microaggressions, it becomes clear that this departure from reality is in fact less a result of the stunning beauty, impossible wealth and over-the-top drama that the show is based on and more a result of the failure of this genre to acknowledge true diversity.
Bold and the Beautiful’s inaccurate depiction of marginalized groups and avoidance of racial, gender and sexual-orientation realities ultimately perpetuates many of the inequities in society today. References Sue, D. (2010). Taxonomy of microaggressions, Chapter 2. Microaggressions in everyday life (pp. 21-41). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons. Sue, D. (2010). The microaggression process model: From beginning to end, Chapter 4. Microaggressions in everyday life (pp. 65-86). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons.